The Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in the world. Magna Carta, meaning ‘Great Charter’ has inspired people across the centuries, from Thomas Jefferson to Mahatma Gandhi. But why was the charter originally created and what does it actually say?
Let’s take a trip back in time to medieval England. It’s the year 1215 and King John is in power. Very few would disagree that King John was one of the worst kings in history. He imprisoned his former wife, starved his opponents to death and allegedly, he even murdered his own nephew. What a nasty man.
King John imposed heavy taxes on his barons in order to pay for his expensive foreign wars, and they who refused to pay were punished and had their property seized.
The barons demanded King John obey the law. When he refused, they captured London and King John was forced to negotiate. The two sides met at Runnymede on June 15, 1215 and the result of these negotiations was written down by the King’s clerks into the document we know today as the Magna Carta.
Although most of the carter’s clauses dealt with medieval rights and customs, the Magna Carta has become a powerful symbol of liberty around the world. The most famous clause that is still a part of the law today is that all men should have the right to justice and a fair trial. No man shall be arrested or imprisoned except by the judgment of their equals and by the law of the land. However, this clause was not as liberal as it appeared to be. The charter only applied to free men, and the vast majority of people in 1215 were unfree peasants, who were ruled over by their landowners. And although the Magna Carta was created to keep peace between King John and his barons, England was plunged into civil war after the Pope declared the charter invalid.
When King John died of dysentery in 1216, nine year old Henry lll took to the throne. To keep the peace, the Magna Carta was reissued several times during the 13th century, until it was finally made part of English law. The Magna Carta has lived on for eight hundred years and is echoed in the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Perhaps the Magna Carta’s most important legacy is that everybody today, including our leaders, must follow the law of the land. What began as a document of specific complaints from a group of barons has turned into an international symbol of liberty.
Until next time with more Sweet Conclusions,
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